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Junior Team at the World Championships

by Chan Jones
USA Wildwater Junior Team athlete

September 2, 2005 -- Franklin, NC

This summer, the U.S. Junior Team represented the United States in the 2005 Wildwater Junior World Championships on July 27-31 in Mezzana, Italy.

The team members were:
 Blake Sparks, 18, Boaz, AL ( K-1 )
 Eric Orenstein, 17, Bethesda, MD ( K-1 )
 Chan Jones, 16, Franklin, NC ( K-1 )
 Emily Stein, 16, Lookout Mountain, TN ( K-1W )
 Erin Wilder, 16, Rockford, AL ( K-1W )
 Bailey O'Sullivan, 17, Roswell, GA ( K-1W )
 Tierney O'Sullivan, 15, Roswell, GA ( K-1W )

 Shaun Smith, Ooltewah, TN
 Maurizio Tognacci (Italian Masters Champion)

We had mixed emotions about the race as we sat in the terminal in Atlanta waiting to board the plane that would take us to Europe. We were excited, optimistic, and nervous. For several of us, it would be our first international race, and for a couple, our first time out of the country.

After many hours on the plane, at the airport, and in the car, we arrived at our hotel in Mezzanna at 5 A.M. after getting very lost in the post nightfall Italian countryside. As you may imagine, we spent the next day sleeping off our jet lag and checking out the racecourse with Maurizio Tognacci, our other coach.

It took us a couple of days to adjust to the new time zone, but that was all right because there was no water in the river. Because of a severe drought in Europe this summer, the race organizers secured releases in the Noce for a couple of practice days preceding the races.

Paddling the Noce was a new experience for most of us, who had never paddled a glacier-fed stream before. In the morning, we'd paddle the river with only the water the powerhouse released into the streambed, which meant a shallow, boat-beating run. After lunch, when the sun started heating things up, we'd get the glacier-melt that ran down the mountain into the river. The extra water definitely helped pad things out and made the lines easier. We were doubly thankful for the extra water because we weren't sure how long our boats could hold out, due to the constant banging on rocks as we learned the river.

The first day, we made an early-morning run in hopes that we'd beat the other teams on the river and have the water to ourselves. While we achieved that goal, we also succeeded in demolishing our boats in the morning's low-water. As a result, several of us had very serious damage to our boats. We quickly ate a bite of lunch and flew to patching our boats around noon. Even with the cheap 5-minute repair kits from the hardware store, it took us until 4 P.M. to get our boats paddle-able for the afternoon runs. Fortunately, our afternoon runs went well, and we learned a lot about the river.

The morning of the nonstop race, the race that would determine the starting order for the classic race, we decided to conserve our energy and do some sightseeing on the glacier that fed the Noce. We ended up getting some great pictures of the view, but coming back down from the thin-air and high altitude sapped our energy. It was all we could do to get in our boats and paddle down the course.

That night, after a rest, we attended the Opening Ceremonies for the event. The athletes representing the different countries paraded through Trento. The rest of the evening was filled with concerts and speeches from the race officials and sponsors.

The next day was the classic race. The real excitement was from all the energy from the spectators on the bank cheering the racers on. All the different teams assembled at the finish and cheered their teammates on. Chan Jones and Emily Stein paddled their way to the top U.S. boat finishes in their classes, with their team-mates close behind.

While the classic race on Friday was a lot of fun, the sprint race was obviously what mattered in the competition. The course was a long stretch of continuous class III, a little like the Upper Ocoee River in difficulty. Before the race, we all felt shaky, and decided to make a quick warm-up run. As a result, a boat and paddle were lost. We later recovered the boat, but the damage it sustained from being pinned downstream of the course rendered it unpaddle-able, forcing its paddler out of the race.

The crowd's energy was incredible as we raced through the sprint course. The French team managers ran up and down the course cheering their team on, the Germans blew horns and noisemaker at their racers, and the Swiss rang the biggest cow-bells we'd ever seen. Italian TV even broadcast the event!

Eric Orenstein and Blake Sparks really stood out among the American Juniors in the Sprint race with solid, clean runs. Chan Jones had a shaky first run, rolling, and losing valuable time near the top of the course. Tierney O'Sullivan dominated the U.S. Women's team's performance with two consistent runs, giving the British girls a run for their money.

That night, we patched our boats a final time so they'd make it through the team race. The best we could do is hope that we'd stopped our boats from leaking so we could give it our best shot the next day. The Team Race went well, although we were a little on the slow side. To our dismay, we'd overlooked a crack somewhere, and Blake's boat was filling rapidly with water. We ended up finishing together, however, and that's what counts the most....being a team.

We couldn't believe we'd spent nearly two weeks in Europe on a paddling trip. Not only that, but we represented our country in the Junior World Championships. In fact, the coolest thing about the trip was how well we ‘knit' as a team. We waited in airport terminals across the world for lost boats, learned a new river in three days, spent multiple nights repairing boats together, and ultimately finished as one, together. We'd like to thank our sponsors, coaches, managers, parents, and those who made it possible for us to take this trip of a lifetime.

Related links:

Chan Jones,
USA Wildwater Junior Team athlete